Kieran Behan has become only the second Irish gymnast in history to qualify for an Olympic Games after he was twice told he might never walk again.
The 22-year-old joins Team Ireland for the London Games after he secured an Olympic ranking place at the Olympic Gymnastics test event in London yesterday (Jan 11th).
Pat Hickey, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, said that Kieran’s qualification was a real boost for Team Ireland. “He has shown great grit, determination and courage to achieve his remarkable objective – and is a superb addition to the Irish Olympic team for London. He is Irish through and through and will be strongly supported by fans back home in Ireland and by the large Irish diaspora in Britain”.
It caps an impressive year for the self-funded Surrey-based gymnast, who was crowned 2011 World Cup floor champion, after he defied all the odds to continue his career.
Behan has battled back from several serious setbacks, amongst the worst when a non-cancerous tumour was discovered on his leg when he was 10 years old, with complications arising in the operation to remove it leaving him in a wheelchair.
Remarkably, Behan recovered, and 15 months later he was back in the gym, only for a freak training accident to leave him with brain damage.
Behan, then aged 12, slipped while working on the high bar causing the back of his head to land on the apparatus, which damaged his inner ear and caused him to black out with any sudden movement.
It meant he had to relearn how to do simple things such as sitting and how to move his head and left him unable to train for three years.
After a great deal of rehabilitation and support from his family and friends, Behan returned to the gym and gained several youth accolades, but a double injury blow ruled him out until the end of 2010 after he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligaments in both of his knees in separate incidents.
However, World Cup series success last year and a solid performance at the World Championships in Tokyo earned him the chance to qualify at the test event at the North Greenwich arena, which he duly took.
Behan, whose mum comes from Monaghan and dad from Dublin, revealed he was in a state of shock when he discovered he was only the second gymnast to represent Ireland at an Olympic Games after Barry McDonald competed at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
“I was just jumping around the room crying my eyes out,” Behan told Press Association Sport.
“I was just so chuffed. It really is a dream come true. To think years and years ago I was told ‘you’re never going to be able to walk again let alone do gymnastics’ to find out I’m going to the Olympic Games is something that dreams are made of.
“To come from all that and everything that’s happened with injuries I’ve got the luck of the Irish on my side most definitely.
“I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for my friends and family and coaches and everyone who has stuck around and been there supporting me.”
“It’s going to be fantastic to represent Ireland and do six gymnastic pieces at the Olympic Games. It is what dreams are made of.”